Since September a group of Newtown High School students, with the help of faculty and administration, has been putting time and energy into creating a program that has provided thousands of meals for area homeless shelters.
The pilot program called Feeding The Need is the brainchild of Newtown High School junior Sonya Stanczyk who is the director of the program. After completing a HOBY, a youth leadership organization service project that brought her in contact with The New Street Shelter in Danbury and its director Mike Finn, Sonya recognized there was a need for food for the homeless, and she set out to address the issue.
With the permission and blessing of Newtown High School Principal Charles Dumais, Sonya sought out assistance from the school’s culinary department and its chef instructors Brian Neumeyer and Lori Hoagland. Sonya’s vision and the culinary department’s facilities and know-how were a great fit. After successfully providing a handful of meals to area shelters, it became clear that the partnership between the school and the homeless shelters offered enormous potential.
The next step was to get a reliable supplier of food products. The Connecticut Food Bank and Stop & Shop supermarkets located in Newtown, Southbury, and Monroe have been providing food to the Feeding The Need program to process, cook, and then deliver to homeless shelters.
According to Mr Neumeyer, the alliance of food suppliers, homeless shelters, and Newtown High School’s culinary department has allowed the Feeding The Need program to provide approximately 4,000 meals to local homeless shelters since the beginning of March. Sonya hopes the program will be a template for other schools throughout the nation to emulate.
“Hopefully we can take this Feeding The Need program to other schools with culinary departments or vocational schools and they can start doing what we do. Hopefully we can take this statewide and to New England and then nationwide in the future,” Sonya said.
Aside from the humanitarian benefits, the program also provides educational opportunities for Newtown High School students who are participating in culinary classes. According to Mr Neumeyer, approximately 40 advanced placement students in the culinary department have handled and prepared the hundreds of pounds of food every week.
Newtown High School junior Matt Baldino is one such student; he was elected director of operations by his classmates. Matt is tasked with keeping track of incoming and outgoing food, assists with menu planning, and acts as a liaison between the food providers and the culinary students. Matt’s ability to handle all these responsibilities impressed his instructors.
“I’m not even sure if I could do it. He’s developed his own systems, his own Excell spreadsheets. He’s learning things on the fly that’s really impressive.” Ms Hoagland said.
Matt recognized that the program was providing realistic challenges faced by chefs.
“In class we used to make a list and Mr Neumeyer would shop for it, but now you have to make a meal out of what’s on hand so it’s more practical,” Matt said.
Sonya said she also has gained valuable insight assembling a sophisticated and robust network of organizations and people to see her vision come to fruition.
“I’ve learned that it’s really easy to put your ideas into actions if you make the right connections, ask the right questions, and meet the right people,” Sonya said. “It’s amazing the difference one person can make. It’s amazing to think that none of this was happening a year ago.”
As for the quality of the food, the faculty and students take pride in delivering nutritious and tasty meals. Ms Hoagland gave an example of the high quality meals being produced by the program.
“We made a roast chicken dish made with roasted fennel, preserved lemons, sundried tomato, stuffed olives, and basil-scented lemons,” she said.
“Just because they’re homeless doesn’t mean they don’t have taste buds,” Sonya added.
Mr Neumeyer said that as the program continues to grow there will be a need for volunteers and additional resources and encourages anybody who wishes to get involved to e-mail FeedingTheNeedCT@gmail.com.